I was lucky enough to talk with Whitney recently about writing The Mockingbirds and am excited to post this Q&A with her.
The violence is so realistic in The Mockingbirds and Alex's feelings of inner conflict are really painful to read. What made you take on such a controversial topic for a YA novel?
Interestingly enough, the book never felt controversial to me while I was writing it. I never thought "Wow, this is going to be triggering or tough or challenging." Maybe that's a good thing when you're writing about a tough subject! As I was writing, the story was quite simply that - the story and the journey Alex was on. As to why I wanted to write about date rape, I knew from the time I opened a new word doc and started writing this book on September 10, 2008 that I wanted to tell a story about what it would take to take a stand. I wanted to explore all the nuances of empowerment and speaking up, both for yourself and for others. I chose date rape because of the complexities of the "issue" and, frankly, because it's a topic I know. I was date raped my freshman year of college and I also pressed charges through the university's justice system. So I believe very much in the power of speaking up and I wanted to show what it takes to be able to do so.
Were you in any way responding or reacting to YA novels of the past, especially to the roles that girls usually play in these novels?
That's a great question, though I've never really seen The Mockingbirds as a response or a reaction to other YA novels. I will say I am very inspired by strong female characters who stand up for themselves, such as E. Lockhart's Frankie Landau-Banks in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I think she is a fantastic role model for teenage girls - someone who isn't afraid to ask questions, to push back and to make change. Those are the female characters I like to read about and those are the type of female characters I hope to keep writing for teens - girls who have to find inner strength to stand up to whatever challenges are occurring in their lives, like Mia in If I Stay, or Terra in North of Beautiful. They are girls who don't have supernatural powers but manage to do amazing things. Those are the girls I want to write about.
What would you like girls (and boys) to take away from The Mockingbirds?
I hope they believe that taking a stand is cool! And I hope readers believe too that you can take a stand for yourself or for a friend; that speaking up and doing the right thing isn't always about you - sometimes it's about your friend, maybe a best friend or maybe someone you don't really know at all. I truly believe that teens should never be afraid to use their voices because there is always someone to listen.
The novel really brings the issue of sexual assault out into the open, why is it important to reveal these issues and write about them for young people?
Sexual assault is as prevalent as it's ever been and it impacts young people the most. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 1 in 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault during her lifetime and girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Also, half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers, according to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. I am a HUGE believer in the power of literature to help enlighten people from all walks of life about issues, challenges and opportunities in life. And I also believe in the power of literature to inspire people to do good, be good and be the change in the world.